Still strollin’

14 Sep
Solano Stroll Silver Man 2014

Rainbow Silver Man poses with little girl

I’ve only missed one Solano Stroll in the last fifteen years. They are all pretty much the same, but I always enjoy them. It’s just a huge neighborhood party where I run into friends, some of whom I haven’t seen in a while, and enjoy the perfect weather. I missed the parade this year, but I’m sure it was fun.

Something that I saw a lot of this year was the prize wheel. Every other booth had one giving away lollipops, toys, pizza, and all kinds of things.

I bought more this year than I normally do, but I ate less. And I had no sweets. (Despite my love for funnel cakes.) I didn’t even take a free sample at the Brownies to Die For booth. But I’m a sucker for good balsamic vinegars, so I got a 4-pack. I know it may sound strange, but the chocolate balsamic vinegar was so rich and delicious (okay, I did have samples there) that I can’t wait to buy strawberries to put it on.

From the cotton scarves and adorable kiddy hats at the usual Tibetan gift shop booths—yes, multiple Tibetan gift shop booths—to the 1000-thread count sheets for $39.99 and any book for a dollar at the Albany library booth, there was plenty there to buy. I’m willing to bet that over a thousand pair of earrings were available.

Since it’s an election year, the local candidates and upcoming measures had their promoters, and various government agencies had a presence there as well.

Most of the Solano eateries had some sort of special going on, either to lure people off the main drag into their restaurants or via a take-out station. Fonda’s was open for lunch and had tables outside in front of their restaurant. There were two Jamba juices. And then there were the food vendors that show up at every carnival and county fair selling kettle corn, roasted corn, cotton candy, and BBQ. The oddest-named food item that I saw advertised was dubbed a “chicken lollipop,” but I’m guessing that if I had seen one, it would have looked a lot like chicken satay.

Several churches, Hillel, and the Atheist Society staked out their spots along Solano. Every school, public and private, was represented. Albany High cheerleaders were raising money for the Cougars, Thousand Oaks Elementary parents had their fund-raising booth, and a Crowden student was playing a violin.

On the top end were all things Berkeley: the Berkeley Historical Society, the Berkeley Disaster Preparedness Neighborhood Network, Berkeley Path Wanderers Association, and of course, Berkeleyside. On the Albany end were huge slides, rock-climbing walls, and a karaoke booth courtesy of the Mel-o-Dee Lounge.

Solano Stroll belly dancersDance offerings included international folk dances, belly dancers, and Katie’s Dance Studio, who always puts on a professional show of kids from tiny tots to teen doing tap, jazz, and hip-hop. And they win the award for most costume changes in one performance.

Music was heard on every corner and in between, from the Minor Seven Jazz combo (my guess is that except for the teen drummer, they were all twelve or younger) to the bluesy singer set up across from Pegasus to the guy who was singing and playing his guitar all by himself and probably didn’t realize that nobody could hear the guitar, making it essentially an a capella performance.

People are generally happy and pretty mellow at the Solano Stroll. It’s rare that I hear any discord. I did see a woman trip over a baby, but she apologized profusely, and you gotta wonder what that baby was doing sitting in the middle of the street…

It was a great day to catch up with neighbors, buy a hat, sit on a curb to eat lunch, and get in some great people watching. Next year will probably have much of the same offerings as this year, and I will happily go again.

Zarri’s is a nice little deli

12 Sep
Zarri's storefront

Me & George

Although it’s changed hands since it opened in 1974, Zarri’s Delicatessen is still the old-fashioned deli that it’s been for years, the kind of no-nonsense sandwich place that every neighborhood needs. Open every day but Sunday, it’s a dependable spot to grab a fairly inexpensive sandwich and all the sides for a nice picnic. West of the BART tracks on the south side of Solano Ave. (1244), Zarri’s is mostly geared for take-out, but they do have one small table inside and one outside.

old Zarri's

Zarri’s old storefront

The building is looking pretty spiffy, and they recently replaced their old faded awning with a new sign. I recall that a 90-year-old man had driven a van into the front window a year ago, but I don’t know if that is necessarily connected to any of the remodeling that took place.*

Since it was a beautiful day, we were glad to snatch the outside table for three. Our timing was good too. Arriving just after noon, we beat the onslaught of Albany High kids who are clearly regulars there.

They have a wonderful selection of soft drinks and chips to accompany just about any kind of sandwich you can think of, as well as quite a few sweets to tempt you as you line up to pay at the cash register. They also have hot dogs, which is new since the last time I’d visited.

George is fond of the Po’ Boys, so he got one of those on a hard roll, which prompted a discussion on the impracticality of sandwiches on hard rolls. We agreed that all the goodies tend to slip right out the back unless you’re careful and hold on tight. I had an easier time eating my salami and pepper jack on light rye. (Light rye is one of those breads that I’d never buy a whole loaf of, but it’s perfect for a salami sandwich.) George commented on his potato salad: “It’s either worse than I remember, or my tolerance for potato salad is lower.” Zarri's salami on rye

My vocal disdain for potato salad in general emboldened George to ask me if I’d always hated mayonnaise or if there was some traumatic experience that explained my aversion. I had to admit that as a child my favorite lunch was a slice of bologna with Miracle Whip (that was my family’s version of mayo) on Wonder bread. But after eating bologna sandwiches for years, I suddenly realized at around age ten that all three of its components were vile, and I never had one again. Of course George makes his own mayo, which is probably light-years away from the Miracle Whip I ate in Oklahoma, but I see no good reason to start liking mayonnaise now. It’s probably the only really fattening thing I don’t like, so why risk a new habit that has the unwanted side effect of extra calories? Besides I love mustard, and with mustard around, who needs anything else?

Dave did not order wisely. Everyone knows that at a deli, you’re supposed to order something with cold cuts and pile on the cheese and veggies. Dave went for the BBQ tri-tip, which was just some beef on bread that had been slathered with BBQ sauce. It wasn’t bad, but Zarri’s is no barbecue joint. Poor Dave.

The beverage case was cool but not cold, so Dave’s bottle of root beer was not as frosty as he’d hoped. In an effort to lower its temperature, he asked for a cup of ice, but they don’t have any ice. I guess since they don’t have a soda fountain, they don’t need ice, but it still seemed a bit odd.

Despite the heat, Dave made do with his less-than-frosty root beer.

Zarri’s has friendly service, lots of options, and that nice small-town Albany feel.

*For more on that story, see http://patch.com/california/albany/van-smashes-into-zarris-deli–misses-customer-by-seconds#.VBOKyfldWSo

Oori’s fills the void with rice

10 Sep

OoriBecause I’m mostly going in order from east to west in my quest to lunch all the way down Solano Avenue, I have occasionally missed my opportunity to have a meal at a place before it goes out of business. This was the sad truth for Sophia Café, which I don’t believe was even around for very long.

Now the little spot just west of the BART tracks is a new place called Oori, though it took me a while to actually distinguish whether the first letter was indeed an “O,” looking as it did like an open swoosh. (See photo.) The young employee behind the cash register couldn’t tell me where the name came from but did confirm that it was Oori.

We arrived just after a swell of Albany High kids descended upon the tiny eatery, which gave us plenty of time to figure out ahead of time what we wanted to try. The menu is simple but provides for lots of combinations. The main attraction is a dish called a rice triangle, which is seaweed folded into a roundish triangle, stuffed with rice and a little bit of meat or tofu.  An order of three of these food modules comes with what are referred to as “sides” of edamame and kim chee, though Dave’s five edamame and tablespoon of kim chee was really more decorative than filling. Dave and George ordered combinations that included shrimp, spicy BBQ pork, and chicken. George said that the BBQ pork was not actually spicy, but he ate it happily. I am not a seaweed eater, so I got the chicken and rice platter, which was more expensive but had a better meat to rice ratio and included nine edamame and a more substantial helping of kim chee, which was somewhat bland and surprisingly white but not bad. The rice was a bit gummy, but it was all perfectly edible.

This is Oori’s first retail outlet, but it’s been around at farmers’ markets and has a presence on UC Berkeley campus. It’s not really my kind of place, but I think someone made a smart business decision putting it within walking distance of Albany High. It’s perfect for a quick, cheap, healthy lunch and may even make the lines shorter at Gordo’s on weekdays at lunch.

 

 

Ginger’s gift

9 Sep

hammock Dave & Tucker

Dave and Tucker enjoy the hammock.

When Dave’s dad was alive, he had a substantial hammock that was the picture of leisure, situated as it was in a generously portioned and perfectly manicured lawn. Transplanted to our backyard, it kind of dwarfs our little patch of grass, but it’s a wonderful reminder that we live in a climate where we can enjoy our backyard year round.

Because it’s only yards away from the French doors that separate his office from the backyard, Dave has taken advantage of the hammock several times, whether he’s taking a well-deserved break from work or just enjoying the beautiful weather. Our daughter Kylie has read books out there, chatted on the phone, and got in some important cuddling time with our cat before heading back east for school.

But until last weekend, I had yet to experience the hammock. When I realized I had an unscheduled afternoon, I decided to seize the opportunity to test out this recent addition to our backyard. It was sunny but not sticky hot, with the occasional breeze swirling by. It was quieter than it had been in a few days that had been filled with family celebrations. Kylie was back at college, and Ginger had gone home too. (Ginger is Dave’s sister’s dog, who was a guest at our house while her adult companions were in Greece.)

So I headed out the back door, ready for my virgin voyage. As soon as I’d swung my legs up, I detected a foul stench. I peeked over the edge and saw the flattened brown remains just below. My gaze crossed to my sandals (still on my feet),  which were now smearing brown on the forest green fabric of the hammock.

“Shit!” was the only appropriate response. Apparently Ginger had left a little souvenir.

I disembarked, hosed off the bottom of my sandals, and scrubbed the offensive smell off the otherwise pristine hammock. Then I inspected my sandals more carefully and realized I needed some sort of tool to dig out the grooves on the soles. Luckily, I have an old toothbrush for just such emergencies, and I put it to work.

But I still smelled dog poop. Was it just stuck in my nose—an olfactory hallucination sparked by that image etched on my memory?

No. It was my foot. Somehow I’d missed the spot where the sandal had rubbed against my skin. Although I know it was just a tiny patch that was easily wiped, I felt thoroughly dirty.

Refreshed and ready to try again after my shower, I carefully stepped to the side of the now-flat brown spot under the hammock and reclined into optimum relaxing position. We live in a pretty quiet neighborhood, but that afternoon, three pre-teen girls were enjoying the warm weather by taking a series of selfies on the deck of the house behind ours.

“Okay, now let’s take one with our elbows like this!”

I tried to be all zen about it. After all, it’s not like it was in the middle of the night and they were doing something awful. But their squeals of laughter were not conducive to the idyllic afternoon I had imagined. Maybe if I turned and faced the other direction, I’d hear them a tiny bit less, I thought, as I pivoted around to place my head where my feet had been. But the pivoting was not successful. I found myself toppling headfirst to the grass below. Fortunately, I didn’t hit the metal rod that gives the hammock its structural integrity.

Unfortunately, I had not cleaned up the dog poop from before.

After emerging from my second shower of the day, I decided to abandon the hammock dream. At least for now…

China Village rises gloriously from the ashes

25 Aug

China Village

I hadn’t been to China Village since they’d remodeled after the big fire, which put them out of commission for over a year. hey definitely took the opportunity to snazz up the dining room as well as replace the kitchen. And it’s the same chef and owner since it opened over 15 years ago, so the food is just as good. The menus were updated, though, to reflect what was always available but not necessarily advertised. It used to be one of those places where regulars knew what to order off the menu, but if you weren’t privy to the secret dishes, you wondered why the next table was eating something that you don’t remember seeing as an option. And the menu must have a hundred dishes on it! It’s truly the James Michener–epic version of menus. Factor in a little extra time for reading…

Everyone gets a complimentary bowl of hot and sour soup to start, which was very good. And hot tea is free, which is becoming less common these days. (You have to pay for it at another upscale Chinese place on the upper end of Solano that will here remain nameless.) We ordered two appetizers that came after the spicy chicken noodle salad that I’d ordered, but I didn’t care—it was all good, and the three of us were eating family style anyway. Don’t be fooled by the name—the “salad” had little in the way of veggies, but it was delish. And since it was essentially peanut noodles with some matchstick bites of sesame chicken and a few cucumber bits thrown in, I was happy, and George loved it.

Our onion cakes weren’t all that special, but they came in handy for reasons soon to be disclosed. The veggie potstickers were hot, fresh, and tasty, though, and the dipping sauce that accompanied them was perfect. I ran out of water and was already working on Dave’s glass when I got the waiter’s attention to bring more. I was happily surprised when he arrived with not just the communal pitcher but a carafe for the table, which totally made up for the fact that I had to ask for water.

And it’s a good thing that we had plenty of water because Dave’s spicy short ribs were indeed spicy. I like spicy food, and it tasted good, but I couldn’t handle that much heat. This is when I returned to the fried onion cakes because they counteracted the spice factor in a sort of alimentary balance act. George’s choice, the cumin lamb, was just the right amount of spicy. And it was presented with a lovely bright red radish rose. (See photo.)

It was quite a lot of food. (There was just so much that we wanted to try…) So we ended up with a full bag of takeout containers—enough for two to have another meal! But even so, it turned out to be only $17 per person (before tip). So if we’d ordered more appropriately for three people eating just one lunch, I think it would have been pretty reasonable. We’re going back soon for dinner so we can try more of the many dishes that looked tempting.

China Village (1335 Solano Ave., btwn Ramona & Pomona in Albany, CA) chinavillagealbany.com

Britt-Marie’s continues to delight

21 Aug
Britt-Marie's topinka & goat cheese

topinka + some goat cheese on bread with a bit of salad

Many places come and go on this mile-long thoroughfare that is Solano Avenue, but one place that has survived the many iterations of restaurants around it and has hardly changed is Britt-Marie’s. A black and white picture of Mother Jones hangs prominently in the front section of the dining room, where it has hung for decades. I’m pretty sure I had topinka there in 1985, not long after I moved to the Bay Area, fresh out of college.  And when I ate there a few days ago, it was the same delicious topinka I remembered.

Britt-Marie’s comes with an interesting history that you won’t find on any website. Apparently, before it was a restaurant, it was a lesbian bar that was painted all black and red. At one time, it was run  by a married couple, but when the wife caught the husband with one of the waitresses, Britt-Marie’s got sold as part of the divorce settlement.

Unpretentious but comfortable, Britt-Marie’s is the perfect spot to meet a friend for a quiet lunch. Britt-marie's gyroIt has a relaxed atmosphere where you don’t have to talk over loud music and you feel okay lingering over a glass of wine. Paper flowers adorned our table, and I noticed an interesting assortment of framed photos, including one of a modern metal chair sitting among some large rocks outside.

Even though it was lunch, we all decided to go for alcoholic libations. George ordered a Husch pinot noir that he already knew and loved. Dave surprised me by ordering a Mill Creek sauvignon blanc, which he liked. (He always orders red!) I went for the Pilsner Urquell on tap, which was just what I was in the mood for. We thought about trying something new, but why try something else when you know there are things on the menu that you know are delicious? We ordered two of our favorite starters—the baked goat cheese salad (with a raspberry vinaigrette, grapes, and glazed pecans-yum!) and the topinka. (Even though it’s not officially on the lunch menu, the chef made it for us anyway.)  What is topinka, you ask? It’s bread with toasted emmenthaler cheese, garlic, and olive oil. And I’m pretty sure it’s lo-cal…

Britt-Marie's chickenMy gyros was pretty good and so was Dave’s chicken. George was a tad disappointed with the dab of chipotle aioli that was barely on his burger, but eventually our waitperson brought out some more. This same waitperson did not notice my empty water glass, so I had to flag him down. Suffice it to say that the service this time around did not get high marks. (But I’ve been there before when the service was great, so it could have been an off day.)Britt-Marie's burger

Of course Britt-Marie’s holds a special place in my heart because we hosted our wedding reception there. (This was our second wedding, the one we had after much of Dave’s family couldn’t make it to our first one, which was a surprise backyard wedding. But that’s a story for another time…)

Britt-Marie’s Café & Wine Bar is at 1369 Solano Avenue, Albany, CA. It is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday, 11:30am – 2:00pm & 5:00pm – 10:00pm, and on Sunday from 5:30pm – 11:00pm.

www.brittmariesolano.com/

Marsh Berkeley offers Josh Kornbluth and the Piper

18 Aug

josh kornbluthI’m a big Josh Kornbluth fan.

I remember seeing him in the basement of LaVal’s Subterranean Café back in 1989 when Dave and I were the only ones in the audience besides his director. That was his first show, Red Diaper Baby. From there, he went on to the Marsh in San Francisco to develop several more one-man shows, including Haiku Tunnel, which was made into a full-length feature film, a project that included his brother Jacob, who incidentally just won an Emmy.

Since then, I’ve seen every new show of Josh’s, whether it was at the Marsh in S.F., at the Ashby Stage as part of the Shotgun Players’ line-up, or at the Jewish Community Center. (I even saw him perform at a Berkeley High fundraiser when my daughter went to school there.)

Right now he’s developing a new show, and I was lucky enough to see him at Marsh’s Cabaret in downtown Berkeley. (It was so nice to be able to stay in my hometown and not battle the bridge to get to the Marsh in the city…) His process is to  in front of an audience while he works on a new piece. So even though what I saw this past Thursday may be quite different from what he comes up with for his show, I got to see the seeds as they were sprouting. And Josh is so much fun to watch, whether he’s talking about his dad, past jobs, his (relatively recent!) bar mitzvah, or even taxes.  I’m excited about this particular show because it draws on rich material—his experiences as a volunteer at Zen Hospice in San Francisco. If anyone can handle such sensitive material with grace and humor, it’s Josh.

Go see it now while it’s in development and then again next year when it hits the main stage. I’ll definitely see it again.

But wait, there’s more!

The night after I saw Josh, I returned to the Berkeley Marsh to see Jinho Ferreira (aka the Piper) perform a one-man show he wrote called Cops and Robbers. Oakland born-and-bred alternative hip-hop artist and member of Flipsyde, Ferreira decided to go the police academy and graduated four years ago. According to his website:piper

The paradox of being a member of the Black community and a hip-hop artist, while simultaneously working in Law Enforcement, served as the inspiration to write Cops and Robbers.”

The show is particularly relevant after the recent cop shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. (He even made a reference to the case, which he must have added long after the show debuted.) He is a skilled performer, becoming 17 different characters and conveying each one’s point of view. Because the content is so serious, he did what he could to add a bit of levity via a female news reporter character; but that character didn’t work as well as his others. The show was not biased toward any one point of view—the circumstances were painted in all shades of gray. The piece doesn’t take any easy ways out and offers no solutions, but it raises important questions that unfortunately have to be asked.

A touch of Delhi in Albany

9 Aug

Delhi Diner dining room

We swung by to pick up George before walking down to lunch and saw his new solar panels, which have not yet been turned on due to impending inspections that must happen first. But when they are up and running, George predicts he’ll save a bundle. I think we’ll probably go that route soon too….But this is a post about lunch, isn’t it?

If a friend told you she was taking you to Delhi Diner and you didn’t see it written, you might think you were going to a casual place to pick up a pastrami sandwich and some potato salad. But of course this Delhi is Indian, so no pastrami awaits you there.

The dining room itself is lovely. The textured paint job is the same as when the restaurant featured wood-fired pizza, which was not even the most recent iteration of 1373 Solano Avenue before it became Delhi Diner.

sev puri

sev puri (served cold)

The first appetizer listed was sev puri, and the menu insisted this was a “must try.” So we did. It was tasty enough, but it was a bit of a shock. When I hear “crisps stuffed with chickpeas and potatoes,” I think hot. I don’t know why exactly—maybe it’s the “crisp” part—but I think it would have been prudent to warn us that it was served cold.

The next shock really wasn’t the restaurant’s fault at all. Dave saw an unusual beverage on the menu and was feeling adventurous. He probably should have inquired further. The jaljeera claimed to be a “flavorful” drink with mint, cilantro, pepper, and spices. It did look festive, but flavorful? Not unless you think of peppery ocean water as flavorful. It could have been in The Phantom Tollbooth—Division Drink, perhaps, named thus because the more you drink, the thirstier you get. None of us liked it one bit. Well, George fished out one of the little popped lentils in the drink and declared it edible. But it remained on the table with little danger of being consumed even if no other liquid were available. Luckily, our waitress never let our glasses stay empty for long.

Delhi Diner jaljeera

Beautiful, but beware!

chicken tikka kabab

chicken tikka kabab

When ordering our entrees, we were asked what degree of spiciness we preferred, which I appreciated. My medium was only mildly spicy, but George’s hot did have some heat. I had the chicken tikka kabab, which was served on some lovely aromatic basmati rice, with a small cup of delicious lentils, some so-so mint sauce, and the best damn naan I’ve ever tasted. It was all cooked fresh and served quickly. My chicken was a tad dry and a tiny bit too salty, but I would have been happy to pig out on their naan. Actually, I did pig out on the naan. They were also very generous with the amount of naan, which came with our lunches at no extra charge. George and Dave both liked the Rogan Josh (doesn’t that sound like the name of a singer/songwriter?)  better than the lamb curry. I dipped some naan into both sauces and agree.

So Delhi Diner is not as cheap as House of Curries and not as amazing as Ajanta, but the food was mostly good, and it is reasonably priced. Our waitress was very attentive, our food arrived quickly, the atmosphere was quite nice, and the bathroom was clean. I would go back just for the naan and lentils…

Their website is www.delhidiner.net and their phone number is 510 528-5000.

Peace Day doesn’t let us forget

6 Aug

 

3 paper cranes

Eleanor Coerr wrote Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes in 1977, and it has become a beloved children’s tale, translated into umpteen languages so that children all over the world can learn the heartbreaking true story of a little girl who lived in Hiroshima and was two years old when the United States dropped an atom bomb on her homeland. She seemed fine until she was eleven, when dizzy spells sent her to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with leukemia. It was her friend Chizuko who gave her a paper crane and suggested that Sadako make a thousand of them, based on the Japanese legend that anyone who folded a thousand origami cranes would be granted one wish. In the book, Sadako was able to make only 644 before she died, but friends and family members completed the task and buried Sadako with a thousand paper cranes. However, others say that Sadako did complete a thousand and kept going, but of course she still died.

Sadako

Sadako monument at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial

A statue of Sadako and a crane stands at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum to remind us of all children who have died as a result of war. Every year at 8:15 am (the time the bomb was dropped) the Peace Bell is rung and everyone says silent prayers on behalf of the atomic bomb victims. The Peace Declaration is read aloud, calling for an end to nuclear warfare and promoting peace worldwide. Rather than making the ceremony only about mourning the dead, Peace Day has turned a day of tragedy into one of hope.

And on the fourth floor in the children’s section of Berkeley’s main library close-up 2 of kotodowntown we commemorated Peace Day a day early by reading excerpts aloud from Coerr’s book, accompanied by four people playing koto, a Japanese stringed instrument that is truly marvelous to look at. After the reading, children and parents made origami cranes with out of paper provided by the library with the goal of folding one thousand to send to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. Art and music librarian Debbie Carton arranged for the musicians and readers, and she even brought her own mother, Joy, and daughter, Audrey, to read portions of the story and fold cranes.

At the end of the story, all the readers said the prayer together:

This is our cry

This is our prayer

Peace in the world

Heiwa no inori

It was a beautiful way to remember a tragedy. By keeping the memories alive, maybe we can ensure that nuclear war won’t happen again.

Women Who are Ambivalent about Women Against Women Against Feminism

4 Aug

tanya grove:

What a great post—it makes some excellent points and is incredibly funny.

Originally posted on The Bloggess:

So...yeah.  Right now there’s a lot of talk about a tumblr called WomenAgainstFeminism.  It’s just pictures of some women holding up handwritten signs entitled “I don’t need feminism because...”  Some of the reasons they give for not needing feminism almost seem like a parody (“How the fuck am I suppose to open jars and lift heavy things without my husband?”) and some (“I don’t need to grow out my body hair to prove I’m equal to men”) just make me wonder where in the world they got their definition of feminism.

At first I considered starting my own “I Don’t Need _____ Because” tumblr with people holding equally baffling signs.  Signs like:

I don’t need books because YOU KNOW WHO WROTE BOOKS?  HITLER.  HITLER WROTE A BOOK.  NO THANK YOU, NAZIS.

I don’t need money BECAUSE I HAVE A CHECKBOOK, ASSHOLE.

I don’t need air because LOTS OF IT…

View original 780 more words

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